Full Disclosure: Black Swan Sounds gave me a free CD so I could write this review.
I am under no obligation to like it as much as I do.
Everytime I see him, Nicholas Giacomini gives love.
He prefers hugs over handshakes, laughs easily and has a quiet smile which twinkles with humility and a pleasant hint of mischief. He has, in my experience, always shown genuine curiosity and concern for others, and tends to weave effortless rhyming into his speech patterns.
This will be your best hint that you’re speaking with an internationally-known MC whose debut album Elephant Power (plus its subsequent remixes) has hovered atop the iTunes World Music charts since March of 2010.
On June 19, 2012, MC Yogi’s sophomore effort, dubbed Pilgrimage, will be released through Black Swan Sounds, the funky-fresh subsidiary of renowned White Swan Records.
Pilgrimage represents a very promising step forward for young Giacomini. The album as a whole is jubilant, bursting with playful rhythms and exalted rhymes plus a horn section that runs a celebratory stampede across the plains, peaks and valleys of this diverse soundscape.
If Elephant Power was in some ways a collection of self-contained anthems, Pilgrimage holds together as a more coherent whole. It’s a fluid work, with moods and movements, which of course include its share of ecstatic, anthemic tracks, such as “Fly So High” and “Sunlight.”
MC Yogi provides an approachable access point to Hindu mythology for all ages and persuasions. Giacomini’s signature storytelling is very much present in tracks like “Hanuman,” (available here for FREE download), and is ever-better, smoother and more piercing. As the former graffiti artist Giacomini explains in his interview with NPR:
I consider my version of the myths to be the comic book version… Weaving these myths into the hip-hop style is for the kid in all of us, and it is a real simplified version because I want to speak in a language that everyone can understand.
However, Pilgrimage consists less of stories culled from the Ramayana or Gita than it does lyrics borne from Giacomini’s own heartfelt experience. This is a refreshing progression, an opening continued beautifully, fun and helpful for all.
For me, “Shedding Skin (Beloved Friend)” is the high point of the album. It arises out of a track called “Sacred Fire,” in which devotees chant the Guru mantra near a crackling homa. And when it kicks in,
Caught up in the pain callin’ out Your name,
tears streamin’ down my face fallin’ just like rain.
I remember the day you had to go away
Said you couldn’t stay it would be okay.
You said that you would see me again
[Wrapped] In the arms of the beloved friend. (repeat)
How long must I long?
How long must I long?
I long to belong in your arms again
My beloved friend. / My beloved friend.
I know nothing of anyone else, but I know this longing well and here it finds poignant expression. Even if devotional poetry is not your thing, this track might still bring you a tingle.
Giacomini’s delivery is ripe with restrained desperation. Flutes soar over a low, steady tone and between them something of a jig comes in. Then it becomes downright glorious before falling into pranams.
Centered upon a profoundly powerful mantra, “I Am That” thrusts and rumbles like low thunder, successfully making perfectly sublime syllables appropriate for a dark, sweaty dance-hall, full of bodies moving like amoeba.
“Breath Control” is built upon a grimy Beastie Boys sample and their influence can be felt throughout the album. I appreciate this greatly.
Additional links detectable in the music include Cheb i Sabbah, DJ Drez and Duke Mushroom, all of whom are shouted-out in the album liner.
DJ Drez praises Pilgrimage, mentioning that its “conscious party rocking vocals” will appeal to those yogis who dig “bumping beats and desire uplifting music that isn’t too soft.”
Offering further depth to the sonic tales, www.PilgrimageProject.me displays Giacomini’s photographic documentation of the trip to India which is the spirit breathing through this new creation.
In his interview with The Examiner, Giacomini calls the trip “[p]hysically, mentally and spiritually realigning,” and indeed, that sense of freshness permeates the project.
Pilgrimage shows Giacomini to be a crucial cog in the beautiful musical movement arising alongside the exponential spread of yoga in the West.
This is a new brand of bhakti joining authentic devotional traditions with the most excellent elements of dub, hip-hop and tribal dance. It is fresh, clean, heart-opening and has me singing sacred mantras all night and day. This is what the “Black Swan” sound is all about.
I’ve even caught my utterly un-yogic friends nodding their blessed noggins to these beats, unaware of the knowledge subliminally penetrating their tender brain matter.
DTM Over and Out.
Editor: Lynn Hasselberger